How to Help Kids Have a Merry Pandemic Christmas
by Catherine Morris | December 18, 2020, updated 4 months ago
The holidays look a little different this year. The pandemic, the slump in the economy, the uncertainty over what's ahead in 2021—all these things are difficult enough for adults to wrap their head around, never mind kids.
Christmas is normally a magical time for little ones, but if the younger members of your household are having a hard time adjusting to the new normal don't panic.
Yes, they probably have questions about why there aren’t as many presents under the tree, why granny's not invited to dinner, or why they can't visit Santa in person, but there are ways to make this year as special as all the others. Our Which Doctor therapists and counsellors share some tips on how to approach these holidays so that the youngest family members feel safe, supported, and ready for Santa.
1. Holiday Parental Pressures
Parents put a lot of pressure on themselves this time of year. They want to get the latest toy, grab every item on the kiddo’s wish list, and make every moment perfect, and that can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety and disappointment over the holidays.
Counsellor Trish Scoular says not to worry if you're on a budget this year, children are less materialistic than you might think.
“Kids are resilient. Find ways to bring Christmas to your kids to create pleasant memories, they will remember the moments they have shared with you more than the toys.”
Psychotherapist Marie Henshaw agrees, and says there's much more you can give your kids than the latest gadget—
“Financial difficulties can affect your self esteem and self regard as a parent [but] there are many activities that parents can do with children that are economical and help to build and support their relationship—baking, painting, building a fort...”
Instead of worrying about recreating last year's festive splendor, why not create some new, charitable traditions? This year provides an opportunity to focus on helping others, says Scoular, and to show older kids in particular that the holidays are about giving as well as receiving. “It's a good time to think about how you can give back and instill the joy of giving [in your kids].”
This could mean dropping off some food to a neighbour, calling to check in on someone who might be alone or self-isolating, or simply arranging a Zoom call between your kids and distant family members.
2. Clear Communication
When it comes to explaining pandemic-related restrictions to kids clarity is key, according to Ming Huey of True Presence Counselling who specializes in family and relationship issues.
“A lot of the language around the pandemic lacks clarity and is misleading. Adults are having difficulty explaining things to kids because they don't understand it themselves. Go back to basics and explain why you are doing things differently: you want to be safe and keep everyone healthy.”
It's a good idea to be calm, as well as clear, when talking to the kids. Anyone with children knows that they're emotional sponges. If you're on track for an anxious, stressed out Christmas, they will be too. “Kids are resilient but they are also very sensitive and they take a lot of things to heart,” says Scoular who warns parents not to show their frustration, or let any unresolved family holiday issues creep into the dynamic they have with their own kids.
Huey suggests using stories or metaphors to give kids a relatable frame of reference. Getting them involved in a story also helps fire up their imagination, which may keep them distracted from anxious thoughts. You can also make a game of it, and play around to burn off any nervous energy and introduce a little fun. Huey says a boat metaphor can be really helpful—
“You tell them, 'we're safe and comfortable together in our boat, we're floating along with other people in their own boats, and we're waiting to see land'. You can get them to act it out, play with them, and do that as often as they need it, whenever they feel anxious.”
Letting kids develop a game and play it out gives them that much-needed sense of order amid a chaotic Christmas, says Huey.
“Children need to be empowered. They need to feel like they have some degree of control.”
3. Hey, Relax!
Huey has an important message for worried parents—Relax! Life will throw curve balls, there's no avoiding it, and kids adapt. In a loving and supportive environment, they can learn to cope with change and be stronger as a result.
“It is part of life that things are not always going to be the same. There will be good years and bad years. There will be years when you can buy more gifts and years when it's just about having time together.”
Family issues threatening your holiday happiness? Get in touch with one of our qualified Which Doctor therapists and counsellors to talk it out and ensure you and your little ones have a fun festive season.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.